Wednesday Update
Dec. 23, 2020
Welcome to the last 2020 edition of the Wednesday Update!

We'll email the next issue on Jan. 13 because we are closed for a week for the holidays.

By highlighting SCCF's mission to protect and care for Southwest Florida's coastal ecosystems, our updates connect you to nature.

Thanks to Caren Schoen for this photo of a marbled godwit (Limosa fedoa).


Please send your photos to to be featured in an upcoming issue.
Warm Holiday Wishes & Gratitude from our CEO
Dear Friends, 

This is our final 2020 installment of our biweekly Wednesday Update, but we’ll be seeing you in January. Thank you for your interest in our work and for being invaluable partners along the way—we look forward to filling you in on our progress in 2021!

Despite all the headwinds 2020 has presented, our staff and volunteers have continued to protect and care for our shared nature. This year has been challenging for many, but it is uniquely trying for nonprofit organizations that depend on the ebb and flow of financial markets. Our staff has shown incredible steadfastness in the face of this continuing uncertainty—they are indeed a dedicated, bright, and hardworking group of professionals. We are so grateful for your continued investment in our work—we quite literally could not do it without you!

Stay on this ride with us, as I am confident that next year will be another year of incredible achievement in research, wildlife management, education, and policy advocacy. I am, and I know you are too, incredibly proud of all we accomplish for our communities and critters.

All of us at SCCF send you our warmest wishes for the holidays.

Here’s to new adventures in 2021! 

Marine Lab Continues to Monitor Red Tide Bloom
The latest satellite imagery still shows patches of dinoflagellate (Karenia brevis) blooms near Sanibel. The hotter colors indicate higher concentrations.

“The satellite imagery is not able to quantify the blooms,” said SCCF Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt, “but it is a great tool for understanding their extent throughout Southwest Florida.” The imagery is provided by NOAA and is available most days, unless there is heavy cloud cover. (The gray splotches in this image are areas where cloud cover blocked the satellite view of the Gulf of Mexico.)

Daily samples collected by SCCF and Sanibel Sea School at local beaches indicated medium concentrations (100,000 to 1,000,000 Karenia cells per liter) earlier this week.

Today counts at Sanibel beaches were down to zero.

Click here or on the image below for a continually-updated the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast. Once you open the online tool, you can click on various beaches for updated conditions.
Roskamp Red Tide Study Bringing Mobile Lab to Sanibel

A clinical study by the Roskamp Institute in Sarasota that is investigating whether red tide can have neurological impacts on humans is sending its mobile lab to Sanibel.

The mobile lab will be parked in the main parking lot of the Sanibel Post Office from 9am to 2pm on Saturday, Jan. 16, to take blood and urine samples from those who have signed up for the study. 

The study, which is the first step in establishing a potential medical diagnosis, is still looking for 100 volunteers. Watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, and a red tide “tickle” in the throat are associated with the aerosolized brevetoxin, though many people have also reported headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, and disorientation during active blooms.

This is the first human trial of its kind to investigate whether exposure to red tide toxins can contribute to dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological issues, or impact different organs, by gathering data on the presence of antibodies and biomarkers in individuals. Biomarkers have been identified in people who grew up on the Southwest Florida coast as well as in individuals who have worked in a marine setting.

The study requires three assessments in which blood and urine samples are taken to measure brevetoxin and antibody levels. Volunteers will be seen during periods when no Florida red tide blooms are being detected, as well as periods when they are.

Comparing the levels of brevetoxin and antibodies with the intensity or frequency of neurological complaints will shed light on whether Florida red tide brevetoxin exposure can trigger neurological conditions and whether immune responses are protective or make symptoms worse. “Until a study such as this one is done, you can’t get a medical diagnosis because there have not been any human trials documenting impacts,” said study leader David Patterson. 

If you want to participate in the study but you are not available on Jan. 16, you can travel to the institute. To qualify for the study, you must be 18 years of age and be able to make your own medical decisions. Since opening its doors in 2003, the nonprofit Roskamp Institute has been a leader in the global effort to better understand and treat diseases of the mind. 

To sign up for the mobile lab or the study, please call David Patterson at (941) 256-8018, ext. 3008. 
Cheers to an Amazing Year of Turtle Research on Sanibel!
This has been an extraordinary year for turtle research on Sanibel despite the setbacks from the global pandemic. All 10 known species of freshwater, brackish, and terrestrial species that have been recognized on the islands in the past were documented this year. Three of the four marine turtle species known to nest on Sanibel nested this year.

The highlight was the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) that returned to nest more than once. Of the non-marine turtles, the two rarest species known to live on Sanibel—the Florida chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticualria chrysea) and Florida mud turtle (Kinosternon steindachneri)—were documented multiple times during 2020.

“More than one observation of these turtles in a single year has never been recorded,” said SCCF Director of Wildlife & Habitat Management and herpetologist Chris Lechowicz. There are a few possible reasons for this anomaly, Lechowicz said, such as extreme high water lasting for a long period of time that caused these two ephemeral species to spend more time wandering on land or fewer disturbances by human activity due to lower numbers of people circulating during the pandemic.
This year, the Wildlife & Habitat Department formed the SCCF Terrestrial and Freshwater Turtle Volunteer Group, pictured here, to help survey and document species throughout the island. This has been quite successful because it ensures that many areas of the island are covered.

The first documented chicken turtle nesting event on Sanibel was discovered in January and this species was recently found more than three miles from its known range on the island. Two of these turtles were tracked with radio telemetry throughout the year noting their active and inactive (aestivation) cycles and preferred habitat. The rarest Sanibel turtle, the Florida mud turtle, was documented three times this year and two of them are being actively tracked with radios to determine their preferred habitats and periods of dormancy.
Many Florida box turtles (Terrapene carolina bauri) from the confiscation from a turtle trafficking bust in August 2019 are being tracked with radio telemetry and GPS transmitters on Sanibel. A lot of valuable information is being gathered on translocated versus repatriated box turtles from a hard release (immediate release) that occurred on the island.

This information is being compared to a soft release (in which turtles are penned and acclimated to a new environment before release) of confiscated box turtles in South Carolina. This data will be used to aid future releases of confiscated box turtles from trafficking busts. 

The department would like to thank Mike Mills and Juliana Koller, pictured here with a box turtle, for their hard work and diligence to detail in their field work in challenging conditions, including traversing through heavy vegetation, extreme amounts of poison ivy, and lots of biting insects.
SCCF Sea Turtle Team Documents Latest Crawl Ever
A Hawksbill First on Sanibel?
The nesting season for loggerheads in Southwest Florida typically runs from April 15 through early August. Green turtles start and finish nesting slightly later and it’s not uncommon for them to nest through August and September.

This year, on Nov. 16, long after the nesting season ended, the last false crawl of the season was documented on Sanibel’s east end. It was difficult to identify the species based on the tracks because she crawled through very compact sand, and any evidence of a tail-drag would have been difficult to see.

The crawl displayed an alternating pattern characteristic of both loggerheads and hawksbills, but it was made by a small turtle. The track was only 27 inches wide.
Loggerhead track width ranges from 28 to 49 inches (averaging 37 inches) and hawksbills are slightly smaller, typically 27 to 31 inches wide.

Though it has not been confirmed, we believe this turtle was likely the very first hawksbill on our beaches. Hawksbills can nest year-round with “peaks” in June and December, so the timing of the crawl fits as well.

The unusually late nesting activity is not limited to our beaches. On Dec. 7, the latest nest on record statewide was laid by a green sea turtle in Brevard County. One explanation may be that the green turtle population has grown exponentially. Or there may be a higher number of females nesting during the typical nesting season, with more outliers, or individuals, nesting on the margins of the season.
Environmental Policy Director Shares Priorities with Legislative Delegation

On Dec. 16, Environmental Policy Director James Evans presented SCCF's legislative priorities at the Lee County Legislative Delegation meeting at Florida Southwestern State College.

Priorities for 2021 include:

1) Support for conservation through dedicated funding for the Florida Forever;
2) Ecosystem restoration with support for full funding of the C-34 West Basin Reservoir with a water quality treatment component, support to prioritize and expedite the funding for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area, and funding for the Lake Hicpochee Phase III Project;
3) Water quality projects, such as updating statewide stormwater standards, reinstatement of the Works of the District (source pollution control projects), and opposing the M-CORES toll road project;
4) Implementation of recommendations from the Blue-Green Algae Task Force and continued funding and research for FWC’s Harmful Algae Bloom Task Force, which includes red tide; and
5) Protection of home rule and funding of the Sanibel Phase 4 Sewer Expansion Project.

Interim legislative committee meetings begin right after the holidays on Jan. 11 with the formal 60-day legislative session beginning on March 2 and ending on April 30.

“Advocating for our priorities in Tallahassee will be modified due to the pandemic and the expected loss of state sales tax revenue from decreased spending,” said SCCF Environmental Policy Assistant Holly Schwartz. “There also will also be limited in-person meetings and COVID-19 testing requirements that will change the way we communicate with our legislators.”

We will be posting our SCCF Legislative Tracker at the beginning of 2021 to provide you with updates and ways to engage our legislators to support the issues important to conserving and preserving our natural systems. 
EPA Gives State Full Control of Permitting for Wetlands

Thank you to the many members who participated with us in trying to maintain the integrity of the federal wetland dredge and fill permitting process. However, on Dec. 17, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted the State of Florida the sole authority to permit dredge and fill requests in Florida’s wetlands.

SCCF is very disappointed with this decision and extremely concerned that it will result in less oversight and protection of wetlands, which will directly impact water quality and wildlife habitat. 

Prior to the decision, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, and all of the resources of the federal government, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, had a hand in reviewing and approving permits that allowed dredge-and-fill material into wetlands or waterways. Now, the State of Florida—with its limited resources and looming pandemic-induced budget crisis—will be the final authority to approve permits that allow the removal of wetlands and other impacts.

Locally, we have concerns regarding the pending decision to impact wetlands at the proposed Eden Oak development west of Shell Point Boulevard. Previously, there were several federal agencies that would have reviewed the development plans for compliance with existing laws, including the federal Endangered Species Act. The waters around Eden Oak have been designated “pupping areas” for the federally endangered smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata). Now the fate of the sawfish and other rare and unique species rests with an understaffed and budget-challenged state agency that only has a statute-mandated 30 days to do the initial permit review.

Water quality and habitat conservation remain a strong priority for SCCF. We will be closely tracking this wetland permitting decision and its impacts in Lee County and will continue to strongly advocate for improved protection of our valuable natural resources. 
Annual Christmas Bird Count Completed Last Saturday

On Saturday, Dec. 19, volunteers on Sanibel and Captiva participated in the 121st Annual Christmas Bird Count, organized by San-Cap Audubon.

Participants typically meet at the SCCF Nature Center to start the day with coffee and donuts and gather again later to tally the results of their counts. Due to COVID-19, this annual gathering did not occur. Instead, small groups or individuals went out to conduct their surveys, and results were tallied by section leaders remotely. At this time, results are still being tallied.

Special thanks to Rachel Rainbolt of CROW for taking this photo of SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht, left, and CROW's Morgan Hester as they count birds on a sandbar.
“There have been large groups of gulls and terns numbering in the thousands gathering on the east end of the island in recent days, which added a large number to the count,” said Albrecht. “Many of these birds have been observed feeding on the dead fish, eels, crustaceans, and mollusks brought in by the red tide, which may lead to them suffering the effects of brevetoxicosis.”

During the count, an aberrant laughing gull that is pictured here was observed. It has some form of depigmentation, causing it to have an orange bill and legs instead of black. “It has been observed on Sanibel and along the causeway every winter for the last few years,” Albrecht said.
Miles Family Donates Cape Coral Mangroves

Thanks to the generosity of the Miles family, SCCF is now the proud owner and steward of 38 acres of mangrove and creek in Cape Coral. 

The new preserve land, outlined in turquoise, is at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee, across from Shell Point as pictured here. A creek runs through the mangroves, while the adjacent property is in state ownership, making it an ideal acquisition for protecting water quality.

The land was donated by the family of Dr. Franklin Miles, pictured here, who was the founder of Miles Laboratories, best known for creating Alka-Seltzer, One-a-Day Vitamins, and a popular sedative, Dr. Miles’ Nervine. 

Through retired Fort Myers attorney Hank Hendry, the Miles family approached SCCF Natural Resources Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel early in 2020 about donating the land. “I believe Dr. Miles would be pleased some of his land is in the hands of SCCF with its dedication to protect and steward Southwest Florida’s natural resources and promote best management practices,” said Wessel, who retired in May. “Thanks to Hank Hendry for making this connection.”  
Miles came to Fort Myers in 1904 from Elkhart, Ind., and bought 16,000 acres on both sides of the Caloosahatchee in the area south of College Parkway to Iona and across the river in the southwest area of today’s Cape Coral. 

He used the land to pursue his interest in agriculture, experimenting on a variety of crops, fertilizers, and plant diseases. He was the first to cultivate Irish potatoes and gladiola, as he expanded and shared his knowledge of how to grow a wider variety of vegetables in the region’s soil.

His research led him to encourage local farmers and groves to be less reliant on ready-made, commercial fertilizers by creating their own organic plant food. He warned that local soils could not be built up with commercial chemical fertilizers because he believed they were too soluble. He also believed they would easily leach out of the soil during heavy rains.

Instead, he encouraged the use of both vegetable and animal waste used by farmers in the Orient for thousands of years as a more economical, sustainable approach. Longtime residents recall the time when the Iona area and the land where Gulf Harbour is today were all gladiolus fields and the logo of Lee County was a glad.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Miles: News-Press Tropicalia Article
Spotlight on Sand Dunes at Next Evening at Homestead

On Wednesday, Jan. 20, Dr. Patrick Hesp, will present a talk called, Sand Dunes, A Global & Local Perspective.

Join us for a 7pm presentation via Zoom about sand dunes and their importance for shorelines and local communities. A worldwide expert on coastal dunes, Dr. Hesp has worked around the globe including throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

Born in Hawera, in the Taranaki region of New Zealand, Hesp completed his bachelor's and master's degrees at Massey University in New Zealand, and his Ph.D. in coastal geomorphology at the University of Sydney in 1982.

He was awarded a DSc from Massey University in 2013. He has held academic positions in NSW, Western Australia, Singapore, USA, and New Zealand, and non-academic positions in the WA State Dept. of Agriculture, Geomarine P/L, and the Rottnest Island Authority, and has held visiting professorships and fellowships in South Africa, Namibia, Israel, Holland, China, Brazil, Italy, Malaysia, Thailand, and France, and has worked on beaches and coastal and desert dunes all over the world. He is an expert on coastal dune geomorphology, and has published over 290 articles in his career to date.

Save the date for this upcoming Evening at the Homestead:

Tuesday, Mar. 9 at 7pm
Florida Needs Fire!, presented by Reed Noss, Florida Institute for Conservation Science
Sanibel School Students Visit Pick Preserve for Art Class

SCCF’s Pick Preserve, located directly across the street from The Sanibel School, served as a perfect setting for a middle school art class last week. Erica Sharp’s art students, observing shapes and structure in nature, sketched plants and trees. They also made leaf rubbing collages. Our natural surroundings can be an inspiration to all of us, as well as these students!
Native Conifers Enhance Landscape Year-Round

It's the time of year for conifers to shine! Even if you don't celebrate the season with a Christmas tree, you can't help but be bombarded by images or the scent of evergreens.

Interestingly, conifers have been used for thousands of years to celebrate winter:

Photo Credit: 
Red cedar berries (Creative commons license on Flickr, Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kathleen Phillips) 

Because their leaves stay green year-round, branches (or entire trees) were often brought indoors to remind people of spring and were thought to bring good luck, fertility, and protection.

In Florida, we have several conifers native to the Southwestern region: slash pine (Pinus elliottii), longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), sand pine (Pinus clausa), bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens), and red cedar (Juniperus virginiana).
Red cedar is one of our more interesting native conifers. It is native to 37 states in the U.S., and is an extremely hardy tree, growing in almost any type of condition (except wet soils). Its leaves, fruit, and wood have been used for a multitude of purposes, including lumber, traditional medicines, drinks, and teas, cooking, perfumes, and incense.

In addition, the blue berries, found only on female plants, are a preferred food source for many birds, including cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum), which are named for the plant. It makes a wonderful addition to any native landscape. Just make sure to have plenty of room, as it grows to 30 to 50 feet tall.

The Native Landscapes & Garden Center at the Bailey Homestead Preserve is closed for the holidays. It will re-open Monday, Jan. 4 for a Monday through Thursday, 10am to 3pm weekly schedule in 2021. We will also continue to offer contactless deliveries and curbside pickup. The next on-island delivery and curbside pickup will be Jan 6. Simply place your order online by midnight on Tuesday for pickup or delivery that Wednesday.

Please email our Garden Center Assistant Sue Ramos at with any questions or requests.

SCCF members will get their discount by entering this promo code: SCCFMBR10
Sanibel Sea School Offering Private Boat Trips in 2021

Starting in January, Sanibel Sea School will begin offering boat-based private sessions for groups and families. Boat-based private sessions are a convenient way to join Sanibel Sea School’s marine science educators and expert captains to learn about the pristine areas of Sanibel's surrounding waters.

Boat-based private sessions can be fully customized to suit group members' ages and interests. Educators can discuss barrier island ecology, or topics such as mangrove forests, seagrass, estuaries, and more. Dolphins, manatees, live shells, and many bird species are frequently encountered on the water and the educators will share their vast knowledge of our area and the creatures that inhabit it along the way.

“Our boat-based private sessions are a great way to safely explore the ocean with your family,” said Sanibel Sea School Director Nicole Finnicum. “We can tailor each session to different levels of knowledge, so these sessions are great for multi-generational families.”

Each session is three hours and can accommodate up to 12 participants. Sessions are scheduled by appointment. To find out more or schedule a session, please email or call (239) 472-8585.
Smalltooth Sawfish Lecture Available Online
In case you missed our virtual Evening at the Homestead...

On Dec. 17, Dr. Gregg Poulakis from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute joined SCCF for the second in the 2020 virtual lecture series, Evenings at the Homestead, to talk about the Smalltooth Sawfish.

Click here to watch "Where Have We Been and Where are We Going?: The Plight of the Endangered Smalltooth Sawfish and What is Being Done to Promote Recovery in the US."
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